Negative Zen

September 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

So I’m on the job today.  A conference was presented about the next new thing and how we need to reevaluate our work and how we approach it.  Websites were distributed; links were followed.  As is usually the case, many of us walked out saying things like, did you get any of that?  Or, how is this any different?

I suppose the feeling of being overloaded at work is not new.  And it’s not like today’s workers aren’t used to change.  Ever since Henry Ford first flipped the switch on the assembly line,  people everywhere have been expected  to update skills and take on new mindsets constantly.   And people, in general, extol this trend.  But it reminds me of something.

Back in the fifties or sixties (roughly, I’m not even googling that date; I’m just going from memory), the suburbs erupted.  Remember that?  Strip malls; housing tracts; roads with three lanes on each side.  Wooded areas were mercilessly bulldozed; neighborhoods were born.  Some people called it “progress.”

Populations grew; cities condensed into the suburbs; rural areas waned.  And it became normal for people to live lives that depended on a single stream of income; income that more likely than not depended on a very small set of specialized skills.  All needs and wants could be satisfied by trading one’s time and specialized skill set for money.  Having money meant you had everything because it meant you could buy anything.  Some people called it “progress.”

Couple all the above with the explosive growth of technology and its invasive, pervasive hold on our lives, and you have even more  “progress.”  What I’ve always wondered, however, is why.  Why people think we have progressed just because we can talk to someone or look something up or send a message to someone whenever we want.  Why folks think today’s kids have progressed so much just because they can operate any new piece of electronics that comes down the pike.  It’s not like everyone who uses the devices has some special talent.  It’s not like pressing some buttons on a gadget that is engineered to be easy to use means you’re gifted.

Yet, some call it “progress.”  I’m still asking, why? Why is talking more and thinking less progress?  Why is paying someone else to perform every basic skill from laundering your clothes to making your dinner to caring for your children progress? Why is living a lifestyle that produces so much garbage and waste progress?  Why is revealing every nuance of your self on Facebook or twitter progress?

I’m just wondering.


Retiring…do I have to wait that long to do what I want?

May 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Retiring…do I have to wait that long to do what I want?.

Retiring…do I have to wait that long to do what I want?

May 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Three of my colleagues are retiring this year.  One has been with our institution for forty years.  The other has been here ten, but has been in the same field for probably about twenty five to thirty years.  All are happy about the change and looking forward to it.  They have mentioned being excited about  being able to “drop everything” and take off on a trip or having time for grandchildren or singing in a community choir.  Things are looking good.

I, too, am glad.  I like these women.  They are good workers, decent people, friends.  But as I see them packing up their belongings and tying up the loose ends of their various careers I have to wonder:  do I have to wait that long to do what I want?

It’s not that I hate what I do (not releasing any details here…I have a full time job, that will suffice for now).  It’s just that…well, let me explain it this way.  I saw the movie “Limitless” with a friend.  In the movie, the main character (played by Bradley Cooper) ingests a mysterious pill that releases the full potential of his mind.  He can suddenly understand the world better and solve problems quickly and easily.  Soon he’s making big money and facing bigger problems.  But the point is–he was himself, only SO MUCH better.  I guess.  My friend said she would take the pill in an instant, then she could be even better at her job (she’s pretty outstanding without it).  My response was, gee, if I took that pill, I wouldn’t use my new-found skills where I am now.  I’d break free.  In a big way.

Movie-induced fantasies aside, I’m serious.  I’m not in a bad place but I am wondering, when did I sign up for this?  I’m painfully aware that, apart from the time I spend right here for instance or the free time I have on weekends, most of the best hours of my day are consumed with tasks whose outcomes don’t really matter to me.  It’s just that I wish to keep my job, so I do them.   And is that so bad?  Plenty of people hate their jobs, have little or no free time, don’t get paid at all what they’re worth.  None of that applies to me, yet there’s still a chafing between my consciousness and my workaday self:   is THIS what life is?

Then there’s the flip side:  without work, how do I learn self-discipline, social skills, and what not to wear?  A job can be a great place to meet people, especially if it is at a place in which one’s coworkers are at least mildly educated or interesting (or both).  It forces me to get up at a decent hour and to put my best foot forward, I suppose.  It’s not ALL about oppression and THE MAN.

Even as I type those words, however, I know I don’t want to NOT work.  I just want to work at what I choose.   Insert dream job here:  I want a paycheck for thinking stuff up and telling people about it.  It’s not too far fetched, you know.  In fact, there’s already a title for people who do that, they’re called writers.   Problem is, someone has to be interested in what you have to say.  Or you have to convince people they should be interested in what you have to say.  I need to figure out how to do that.  Sigh.  That mystery pill could sure help here.

Beauty and Its Beast

February 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

Every now and then I come home from work and turn on the TV to something so fascinating that I don’t change or put away my things or even sit down.  I don’t want to miss a word.

It happened today with Oprah.  I have to say that the last few seasons have been less then stellar, in my opinion, but she occupies the four to five PM time slot in my town and it’s a habit to tune in.  At least for a few minutes.  The topic that riveted me?  Supermodel legends!  Check it out here:

Normally I’m not into celebrity things.  I like a few of them but  not enough to follow any of them on Twitter or buy magazines because someone hot is on the cover.  So when I saw the commercials for this show I thought it might be interesting, but I didn’t plan to carve time out of my schedule for it.  In fact, I forgot all about it.  Then I turned on the TV.  And couldn’t turn it off.

Why?  Part of it is simple nostalgia.  Cheryl Tiegs was one of Oprah’s guests.  I sort of grew up with her:  she was the IT girl when I was a teenager in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  Seeing her again and getting to hear her talk about her career and how she’s changed since her famous years was captivating.  She spoke eloquently about  the ups and downs of modeling and of life.

But the most fascinating part was realizing, as she and the others (Beverly Johnson and Christie Brinkley included) spoke, that she was so ordinary looking.  Good looking, yes, but ordinary.  Sure, she’s aged.  She’s not all made up for a shoot.  But still, she used to be the most sought after face in the business.  Doesn’t that guarantee you something?   I mean, shouldn’t a level of glamor that was once so high place you head and shoulders above the rest of the pack even as it wanes?   Sort of like a suntan:  if you’re brown and hearty all summer, won’t you still look better in December than the folks who never ventured outdoors at all?

But that’s not all.  Each woman spoke candidly about aging, divorce, younger models taking their place, even domestic violence.  As I listened it occurred to me:  they’ve had no easier a life for being beautiful.  I had theorized that beauty was it’s own beast back in my mid to late twenties.  The years when I started to take over my own life instead of being told what to think by family, friends, media.  Now, my hypotheses were being proved publicly.   Think about it:  beautiful women are cheated on, dumped, neglected, and have their birthdays forgotten just like the rest of us.  They sometimes end up in abusive relationships.  They are sometimes murdered.  Those of us who DON’T look like models think that beauty and its accompanying fame are like insurance policies.  Nothing would be as bad if I looked like her.  The fact is, nothing could be further from the truth.  It might even be the other way around.

One of the models admitted that when she passes a man on the street and he doesn’t look at her, it “hurts a little” inside.  Not a problem for me.  I’ve never expected it and don’t even think about it.  Another said that when she was twenty five, she had a crisis because she realized there were seventeen year olds entering the business that threatened to push her out the door.  Please.  Seventeen year olds?  My kid graduated from high school just a few years ago and you can believe me, being seventeen is no walk in the park.  One told about how she started with a new agency and the boss took one look at her and said, “Fish and water.”  As in, eat nothing else.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Being beautiful and in need of a modeling job, that young woman had to obey those words.  Me?  I’d tell that boss lady where she could put her fish and water.

I may not be entirely right about beauty being a beast.  There are probably some perks; all Oprah’s guests on this show certainly had very lucrative careers.  But they’re still battling demons that I left behind years ago.  It’s almost like, you’re beautiful and famous for five to ten years.  You’re everywhere.  Then, assuming you live a normal life expectancy, you’re nothing for the next fifty years.  How is that good?

I’ll take my life just the way it is.  I might have wished I looked like Cheryl Tiegs or Christie Brinkley in my younger years.  But that didn’t last long.  I learned to find satisfaction in the careers I’ve built, the family and friends I’m part of, and the simple joy I’ve found by wanting what I have.  That will last a lot longer than even the best modeling career.  And I NEVER have to eat fish for breakfast!

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That Social Networking Thing

January 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Two mortifying things:

1.  I don’t have a Facebook page.

2.  I have a Twitter account, but I don’t use it.

I know:  it’s weird.  I read an article yesterday on in which some interesting statistics were listed about Facebook:  that it has over 500 million users; that 70% of those users are outside the US; and that of people who are active on the web, 1 in 4 has a Facebook page and they’re really into it.  Apparently so much so that about 24% of active Facebook users admit to checking their pages FROM BED as the last thing they do before turning in.  Wow.

And, gross!  What on earth is that important?  I know I sound like an old person complaining about “kids today.”  But seriously, what is the big deal?  I’ve glanced at a few of my friends’ pages.  They are, at best, inane.  “My kid said this today…” then seventeen people reply back something like “isn’t that cute?!” or “how about that?” or the ubiquitous “LOL.”

I don’t have a Facebook page because I don’t believe in sending out news flashes about myself.  And Twitter is even worse.  Does anyone need to know that you read a billboard today on your way to work that made you cry?   Or that your kid still has a scratchy throat? Or that your dog ate your homework?

It reminds me of those salespeople that used to come to people’s houses or even call on the phone–back in the day before people had caller id and answering machines and therefore actually answered their phones.  Maybe they made the sale with you or didn’t, but they always ended with, “…and if you give me the numbers of two or three friends or family members…”  And of course you DIDN’T give them those numbers.  Because what would they do with them?  Call and pester your family and friends!  No decent person would condemn people they  loved (or even just liked a little) to that fate.

Yet that’s what Twitter and Facebook do to people every day.  They’re the modern-day equivalent of the door to door salesmen.  The digital version of the phone solicitor.  People used to put up signs, “No Soliciting.”  I remember  them from when I was a kid selling Girl Scout cookies around the apartment complexes in my neighborhood.  I still see them here and there.  People put them up because they don’t want to be bothered.   Yet they allow countless updates from Twitter, Facebook, or RSS feeds to bombard them with information like, “Margo just completed the 5K with a personal best of 19 minutes!” or “Jared Smith has published his latest article on”

I know the irony here:  I’m posting on a blog.  I hope some people will actually read this blog.  I’d like to make money from my writing which of course requires me to interact with people who will be reading my writing.  But isn’t there still a time when things get turned off?  Like when they used to play the national anthem after the 11 PM news and then the station went off the air.  Even HBO used to close down for the night.  Maybe that’s what it is:  Twitter, Facebook, email, text, IM’ing–it’s like the last barrier has come down.  As if now, not only are the grocery stores, gas stations, TV networks and movie channels all 24/7, but all us people are, too.

And you know what?  I hate that!  I think there needs to be more turning off:  as in the lights, the TV, the phone.  And a time when everyone goes off the air.  Like Tracey Ullman used to say,  “go home!”

Who are you, really…?

January 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Have you ever read one of those little bio blurbs?  You know what I mean, the ones that follow an author’s name after a magazine or web article, perhaps on the back cover of a book.  Or maybe you’ve seen (or heard) them in other places:  obituaries, web sites, talk show hosts welcoming a guest, even blogs like this one.  Has it ever struck you how neat and concise, even how significant, a life can sound when it is expertly summarized and put into print or proclaimed on television?

Those little blurbs are what started me thinking and ultimately led to my decision to write this blog.  Let’s look at this logically:  IF a life is more interesting, organized, and significant when it is written about, is it possible that the converse is true also–that writing about life MAKES it more interesting, organized, and significant?  I think it is.  Let’s try it.

Here are a few bios I could use if I were to publish an article or a book today:

a)  Ryland is a writer, teacher, and mother who is currently completing her first novel.  She enjoys horseback riding, camping, and scuba diving  with her husband and two children.

b) When not working on her first novel or teaching elementary school, Ryland can be found in the great outdoors scuba diving, camping, hiking, or skiing.  She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children.

c) Teacher, mother, and outdoor enthusiast Ryland Canon has written numerous poems and short stories.  “Fear of War” is her first novel.   She and husband Steve currently reside in Oregon  raising  their two small children.

These sound real and convincing, although not all the details are true–no stalkers, please!  But my point is, doesn’t Ryland sound like someone who has her act together?  Doesn’t she seem even a little bit interesting?  I mean, after all, she’s written a BOOK; she skis; she scuba dives.  C’mon!   What’s not to like?

But perhaps most importantly, doesn’t it sound like everything you read inside the covers of books, magazines, or on the web?  I’ve read bios like those countless times and I’ve never thought until recently:  these people are no different than me.  Sure, some have traveled the world, speak 8 languages fluently or made their first billion by the age of 17.  But most of them haven’t.  Most of them sound good because someone wrote something good about them. I will dare to say it:  most of them sound good because someone wrote about them, period.

S0 I invite you to do the same.  Write a little  bio.  Pretend (if necessary) that you matter. Because that’s really what makes these blurbs so effective:  they’re only written about people who are IMPORTANT, right?  That’s what we assume when we read them.  Because surely no one would go to the trouble to write about and publish something from someone insignificant.

The editors at Time Magazine or Bantam Books might never craft a bio for you.  You may never be introduced by Matt Lauer on the Today Show.  But that ‘s not because you don’t deserve those things.   Okay, you probably need to do SOMETHING to earn the attention.  But you’ll still be the same person after you write the book or after you’re interviewed on a morning news show as you are right now.  So why not be ready?  Go ahead and write your bio.  Now. A good one–no criticizing or belittling yourself.  No lying (yes, you can still make it good without lying!).  Then take a moment and read it over a few times.   Don’t you like the way it sounds?   Don’t you like the way you sound?

Ryland is an outdoor enthusiast, mother, and teacher who enjoys inspiring readers with her poetry and short stories.  Having traveled her own healing journey through depression, she seeks to help others by sharing some of the hard-earned wisdom she has gained along the way–through this very blog you’re reading now.

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